What is cancer?
Cancer refers to any one of a large number of diseases characterized by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue. Cancer often has the ability to spread throughout your body.
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the world. But survival rates are improving for many types of cancer, thanks to improvements in cancer screening, treatment and prevention.
What are the symptoms for cancer?
Anal cancer signs and symptoms include:
- Bleeding from the anus or rectum
- Pain in the area of the anus
- A mass or growth in the anal canal
- Anal itching
When to see a doctor
Talk to your doctor about any signs and symptoms that bother you, especially if you have any factors that increase your risk of anal cancer.
What are the causes for cancer?
Cancer is caused by changes (mutations) to the DNA within cells. The DNA inside a cell is packaged into a large number of individual genes, each of which contains a set of instructions telling the cell what functions to perform, as well as how to grow and divide. Errors in the instructions can cause the cell to stop its normal function and may allow a cell to become cancerous.
What do gene mutations do?
A gene mutation can instruct a healthy cell to:
- Allow rapid growth. A gene mutation can tell a cell to grow and divide more rapidly. This creates many new cells that all have that same mutation.
- Fail to stop uncontrolled cell growth. Normal cells know when to stop growing so that you have just the right number of each type of cell. Cancer cells lose the controls (tumor suppressor genes) that tell them when to stop growing. A mutation in a tumor suppressor gene allows cancer cells to continue growing and accumulating.
- Make mistakes when repairing DNA errors. DNA repair genes look for errors in a cell's DNA and make corrections. A mutation in a DNA repair gene may mean that other errors aren't corrected, leading cells to become cancerous.
These mutations are the most common ones found in cancer. But many other gene mutations can contribute to causing cancer.
What causes gene mutations?
Gene mutations can occur for several reasons, for instance:
- Gene mutations you're born with. You may be born with a genetic mutation that you inherited from your parents. This type of mutation accounts for a small percentage of cancers.
- Gene mutations that occur after birth. Most gene mutations occur after you're born and aren't inherited. A number of forces can cause gene mutations, such as smoking, radiation, viruses, cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise.
Gene mutations occur frequently during normal cell growth. However, cells contain a mechanism that recognizes when a mistake occurs and repairs the mistake. Occasionally, a mistake is missed. This could cause a cell to become cancerous.
How do gene mutations interact with each other?
The gene mutations you're born with and those that you acquire throughout your life work together to cause cancer.
For instance, if you've inherited a genetic mutation that predisposes you to cancer, that doesn't mean you're certain to get cancer. Instead, you may need one or more other gene mutations to cause cancer. Your inherited gene mutation could make you more likely than other people to develop cancer when exposed to a certain cancer-causing substance.
It's not clear just how many mutations must accumulate for cancer to form. It's likely that this varies among cancer types.
What are the treatments for cancer?
Many cancer treatments are available. Your treatment options will depend on several factors, such as the type and stage of your cancer, your general health, and your preferences. Together you and your doctor can weigh the benefits and risks of each cancer treatment to determine which is best for you.
Goals of cancer treatment
Cancer treatments have different objectives, such as:
- Cure. The goal of treatment is to achieve a cure for your cancer, allowing you to live a normal life span. This may or may not be possible, depending on your specific situation.
Primary treatment. The goal of a primary treatment is to completely remove the cancer from your body or kill the cancer cells.
Any cancer treatment can be used as a primary treatment, but the most common primary cancer treatment for the most common cancers is surgery. If your cancer is particularly sensitive to radiation therapy or chemotherapy, you may receive one of those therapies as your primary treatment.
Adjuvant treatment. The goal of adjuvant therapy is to kill any cancer cells that may remain after primary treatment in order to reduce the chance that the cancer will recur.
Any cancer treatment can be used as an adjuvant therapy. Common adjuvant therapies include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.
Palliative treatment. Palliative treatments may help relieve side effects of treatment or signs and symptoms caused by cancer itself. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy can all be used to relieve symptoms and control the spread of cancer when a cure isn't possible. Medications may relieve symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath.
Palliative treatment can be used at the same time as other treatments intended to cure your cancer.
Doctors have many tools when it comes to treating cancer. Cancer treatment options include:
- Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancer or as much of the cancer as possible.
- Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment can come from a machine outside your body (external beam radiation), or it can be placed inside your body (brachytherapy).
Bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow transplant is also known as a stem cell transplant. Your bone marrow is the material inside your bones that makes blood cells. A bone marrow transplant can use your own cells or cells from a donor.
A bone marrow transplant allows your doctor to use higher doses of chemotherapy to treat your cancer. It may also be used to replace diseased bone marrow.
- Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also known as biological therapy, uses your body's immune system to fight cancer. Cancer can survive unchecked in your body because your immune system doesn't recognize it as an intruder. Immunotherapy can help your immune system "see" the cancer and attack it.
- Hormone therapy. Some types of cancer are fueled by your body's hormones. Examples include breast cancer and prostate cancer. Removing those hormones from the body or blocking their effects may cause the cancer cells to stop growing.
- Targeted drug therapy. Targeted drug treatment focuses on specific abnormalities within cancer cells that allow them to survive.
- Clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies to investigate new ways of treating cancer. Thousands of cancer clinical trials are underway.
Other treatments may be available to you, depending on your type of cancer.
What are the risk factors for cancer?
Several factors have been found to increase the risk of anal cancer, including:
- Older age. Most cases of anal cancer occur in people age 50 and older.
- Many sexual partners. People who have many sexual partners over their lifetimes have a greater risk of anal cancer.
- Anal sex. People who engage in anal sex have an increased risk of anal cancer.
- Smoking. Smoking cigarettes may increase your risk of anal cancer.
- History of cancer. Those who have had cervical, vulvar or vaginal cancer have an increased risk of anal cancer.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection increases your risk of several cancers, including anal cancer and cervical cancer. HPV infection is a sexually transmitted infection that can also cause genital warts.
- Drugs or conditions that suppress your immune system. People who take drugs to suppress their immune systems (immunosuppressive drugs), including people who have received organ transplants, may have an increased risk of anal cancer. HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of anal cancer.
Is there a cure/medications for cancer?
Surgery, radiation, drugs, and other therapies are used in cancer treatment to eradicate cancer, reduce cancer, or halt the spread of cancer. There are numerous cancer therapies. You might undergo one treatment or a combination of treatments, depending on your specific circumstance.
Options for cancer treatment include:
1. Surgery: The main objective here is to completely remove the malignancy, if possible.
2. Chemotherapy: Drugs are used in chemotherapy to kill cancer cells.
3. Radiation Therapy: High-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, are used in radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy devices can either be implanted inside or outside of your body (external beam radiation) (brachytherapy).
4. Immunotherapy: Also referred to as biological therapy, immunotherapy makes use of your body's immune system to combat cancer. Because your immune system does not detect cancer as an outside invader, it can thrive unchecked inside your body. Your immune system can "see" cancer and fight it with the aid of immunotherapy.
5. Hormone therapy: Your body's hormones may be contributing to certain cancers. Breast cancer and prostate cancer are two examples. It may be possible to inhibit the growth of cancer cells by eliminating those hormones from the body or by blocking their effects.
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